Friday, August 14, 2015

Obituary: William Logan (1984)

Obituary from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is with deep regret that we report the sudden death of William Logan—"Loge" to all who knew him. "Loge" was one of the founder members of Edinburgh Branch in 1968, and a driving force in its early dynamic days. He was an entertaining speaker and a prodigious literature seller. One of his greatest contributions to the Party was his interest in silk screen printing, which enabled Edinburgh Branch to produce their own inimitable posters, which sprang up all over the city. A visitor to one of our meetings in the late sixties, remarking on the number of SPGB posters he saw, thought that the cultural revolution had spilled over into Edinburgh; you could not turn a corner without seeing a poster. The death of "Loge" at the age of only 35 is a grievous loss; his enthusiasm, drive and humour will be sadly missed.
L. A. Craig
Edinburgh Branch

Materialism and ideas (1985)

From the July 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard

Historical Materialism is the reasonable view that new methods of production and forms of economic organisation arise, with appropriate ideas, as classes in communities seek to further their interests and satisfy their needs in given social situations. A contrary view was argued by Max Weber in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber denies the strong claim of Marx that social existence determines consciousness by illustrating how the ethos of capitalism predated capitalist society. He proceeds by focussing on certain religious communities in reformation Europe and particularly on Calvinists, as their doctrines were readily cast in the form of maxims governing daily activity.

The Calvinist maxims are varied, but two are crucial for Weber's thesis: that you should work hard and adopt an ascetic mode of life. Thus hard work and frugality as maxims led the early Calvinists to set up as entrepreneurs, exploiting the small force of free labourers, reinvesting most of their profits because their religion forbade them to dissipate wealth in personal consumption.

The general conclusion to be drawn from Weber is that an adequate account of the rise of capitalism must allow ideas to have a dynamic of their own, in conjunction with material factors. Weber is an eclectic compromise between materialism and idealism, favoured by liberal historians and sociologists.

Commercial divines 
Weber's position is that consciousness determined social existence — but only in the case of some Calvinists. The first difficulty is to explain why some Calvinists became employers and some did not. A general theory which holds that some people's actions are determined by their ideas and some are not, is clearly vacuous. Even if we allow the potency of ideas in a few special cases, there is still a contradiction at the heart of Weber's analysis; for those few whose actions were most determined by their ideas, were also those few who set aside their previous ideas to invent or accept Calvinist doctrines. So those whose actions were most strongly determined by their ideas were, paradoxically. those who were  not. Innovative ideas and cultural change are permanent puzzles on Weber's account.

The strong part of Weber's case is the interesting claim that ascetic protestantism and the Calvinist maxims of hard work and frugality helped to build up an ethos that lubricated the passage to capitalist production relations in several areas traditionally governed by guilds of craftsmen. If you ask modern capitalists for the source of their wealth they may say hard work and frugality and deny that they exploit workers. Weber argues not that this is now true, but that it was once, for a few divinely inspired commercial Calvinists of the seventeenth century

Religious revolutionaries
Unfortunately for Weber, Calvinists had maxims for conduct other than frugality and hard work and some of them do nothing to foster capitalism, or they have the opposite effect. Prime among Calvinist notions is the idea that believers must submit to the clerical authority of the democratic council of elders, who in the early days ruled that usury should be abolished. Moreover the history of two key tenets of early Calvinism is fatal to Weber's argument. The first is the idea of predestination: Calvinists were, at birth, already allocated their places in heaven or hell and their subsequent worldly activity (good deeds) were irrelevant as far as their final destination was concerned. Neither of these ideas remained unchanged as Calvinism and capitalism developed. This is the key to an understanding of the relationship between Calvinist ideas and rise of capitalism.

The early Calvinists were reacting against the luxury of the papal and royal courts, the great wealth of landowners and the monopoly power of trading centres like Venice. They drew up a code of life where all were levelled down to basic condition of uncertainty as to whether, in the eyes of god, they were of the elect of not. The rich were further levelled down to the poor by the injunction to work hard and live frugally, while the irrelevance of worldly activity meant that the rich could not buy places in heaven with their charity; the abolition of usury was a direct attempt to level differences between rich and poor. Round this off with the democratic election of the council of elders by all member of the church and a picture emerges of a small popular movement in revolt against feudalism, catholicism and the counter-reformation. The speeches of Calvin back up this interpretation, for he couched his theory in terms of revolution against the old order and was often wildly cheered in the reformed churches where he preached.

So the ground of the Calvinist church was one of the areas of consciousness in which people could identify their interests and fight for a society that would realise what they wanted. Explained in this way, the strong part of Weber's thesis collapses into the theory of Marx and historical materialism, while the subsequent history of Calvinism is even more illuminating.

The unknown power
The doctrine of the irrelevance of worldly activity to the predestination of the individual Calvinist was the first to undergo change. In the course of a century the faithful came to look on success in world activity as a sign that they were of the elect. As Calvinism and capitalism evolved there was great concern with the acquisition of wealth on the part of those whose ascetic moral code did not permit them to dissipate that wealth in consumption. Thus, if Weber's account were unmodified, the conditions which fostered the most rapid accumulation of capital during the rise of capitalism (wholesale enclosures, lengthening of the working day, speeding up of production -  and the enforced degradation of people into labourers dependent on employers) would be an unlooked-for consequence of a church which came into existence with the intention of democratising religion.

So, even if Calvinist ideas did promote the growth of capitalism, they could only be said to do so quite opposite to the way intended. For the early Calvinist father would have been appalled by the rampant exploitation in the early years of the industrial revolution. Yet Weber asserts that capitalism is the accidental consequence of those who cherished Calvinist maxims. A much more plausible interpretation of this whole business is possible of religious ideas are relegated to their proper place.

Calvin's original doctrine of predestination, having become theologically insignificant, was corrupted through the desire of the faithful to give cosmological significance to what they were already doing. The wealth they were busily acquiring was given a religious rationalisation and made into a sign that they were of the elect. But feeble though this rationalisation is, much can be done with it if it is stood on its feet in the ground where it emerged.

In the uncertain conditions of early capitalism, before market patterns became established, traders were bewildered by events. At one time they threw piles of commodities onto the market, saw the lot purchased and made handsome profits; at other times nothing was saleable. So the Calvinists among them reasoned the social situation into their religion. The following quotation expresses the relationship between the ideas of ascetic protestantism and capitalism more clearly than Max Weber ever did:
Calvin's creed was one fit for the boldest bourgeoisie of this time. His predestination doctrine was the religious expression of the fact that in the commercial world of competition success or failure does not depend upon a man's activity or cleverness, but upon circumstances uncontrollable by him. It is not of him that willeth or of him that runneth, but of the mercy of unknown superior economic powers . . .
(Marx and Engels, Selected Works, vol.3, p.104, Moscow, 1973)
The history of Calvinism illustrates how those who now advocate the reform of religious, political or social institutions should beware. The most sophisticated reforms may be turned against their advocates by the operation of an incorrigible social system.

Calvinists may have helped bring capitalism into being; we have to bring it to an end.
B. K. McNeeney

From the WSPUS Radio Series: The Yom Kippur War (1973)

From issue number 6 (1973) of The Western Socialist

There are several ways of looking at a problem, depending upon one's point of view. Take an example such as the latest Arab-Israeli War, the so called Yom Kippur War. The case for the Arabs rests upon their assertion that Israel is a nation of Europeans and Americans that has taken possession of Arab territories in the Middle East and has dispossessed and driven Arabs from their former homes. Further, that the present nation of Israel should be abolished and a new, secular state instituted that would give equal authority to all resident peoples regardless of religion. At least that is their story. 

The Israelis and all who support them, on the other hand, argue that the Jewish people have a right to exist as a nation; that their homeland rightfully must be located in what is called the Holy Land; and that the State of Israel must continue to exist. They insist that this is all they ask and that if their borders have expanded beyond the original ones of 1948 this is not because of imperialist activity on their part but because of Arab defeats in the previous wars against them and the need for Israel to maintain buffer territories against further Arab aggression. And that is their story. 

There are, to be sure, variations on this general theme. Those who see the Arab world - at least that part of it which proclaims itself socialist - as a Third World progressive force against the capitalist west and the so-called communist bloc in the east are able to see through Israeli hypocrisy and correctly view it as a puppet of U.S. Imperialism. The friends of Israel, on the other hand, and there are many professed socialists among these, too, see the Arab nations as mere puppets of the Soviet Union and a force for reaction, rather than progress. 

The main problem with most of the analysts is that they fail to see the entire picture because they are either ignorant of the fact that society is divided into rival economic classes or, knowing it, fail to apply such knowledge in this instance. There is no homogeneous Israeli people with common interests. Nor is there an Arab people in that sense. The Israelis are divided on the basis of a tiny owning class and a vast class of propertyless wage slaves and there is not one single nation in the Arab bloc - nor any place else in the world - where the same division does not exist, In the Arab world there are even conflicts among rival national ruling classes that pit them against one another in open warfare. 

True, in a large sense, all of the nations of the Middle East are puppets of one or the other of the super powers despite the clout same of them carry because of their oil deposits. After three earlier wars and now this latest one, it should be apparent that neither Israel nor any of the Arab nations can afford to carry on late 20th Century warfare without continual supply from the U.S.A. or the U.S.S.R. And it is equally apparent that neither the U.S.A. nor the U.S.S.R. is ready to relinquish control of the strings. But this in no way justifies the argument that the workers in the Middle East, or any place else in the world, have any real stake in saving Israel from the Arab nations are saving any of the Arab nations from Israel. 

For about three quarters of a century the Zionist movement has pleaded the case for a Jewish Homeland as the answer to the problems of Jewish working people everywhere. After 25 years of this Homeland, those who have settled there have been subjected to continuous warfare, violent "incidents," and continuing poverty - unless they happen to have friendly and wealthy relatives. Arab nationalists have given and still give out the same nonsense to their working people. The World Socialist Movement has but one answer: 

Workers of the world unite far world socialism. You have a world to gain.

Greasy Pole: Hoey Hoo-Hah (2006)

The Greasy Pole Column from the April 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why does she stay in a party which, she says, imposes policies it was not elected on?
Say what you like about rebel Labour MPs, in most cases they are consistent – or should that be boringly predictable? Foundation Hospitals? Against. War on Iraq? Against. Ban Hunting? In favour. All tediously predictable. Then along comes Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, to upset the pattern. The big issue for Hoey – the one which has earned her the most publicity – has been her support for hunting which she demonstrated, on the day the “sport” was banned by Parliament, by riding out with the Beaufort Hunt. She says the ban is unenforceable, that it has actually made hunting more popular than ever: “It’s part of the British rebellious streak that as soon as something is banned it becomes more attractive”. Which raises the question of what she is doing in Parliament, where they lay down laws which ban all kinds of behaviour as a way of making them unattractive to even the most rebellious person. She has also said of the Labour Party : “They don’t understand the countryside” – as if there is a lot more to “understand” than that the countryside is basically the same as the towns and cities, with a class structure which condemns one class to work for their living in varying degrees of poverty and insecurity.
It is also fair to ask what drives her to be the MP for Vauxhall which, in the London Borough of Lambeth and including Kennington, Stockwell and parts of Clapham and Brixton, is as far from what most people see as the “countryside” as it is possible to be. It is, in fact, one of the toughest and most disrupted parts of London. To ensure that everyone, including the long-suffering voters of Vauxhall, knew where she stood on hunting, Hoey took on the job of chairing the Countryside Alliance – an organisation which tells us it campaigns about rural poverty and the decline of the villages but which was mysteriously silent on these issues until the 1997 Labour victory brought the first ever real threat to hunting. It was unfortunate timing that Hoey announced her new, additional job on the day the police shot John Charles de Menezes – at Stockwell station, in her constituency. This ghastly event did not dampen the Countryside Alliance’s joy at her elevation to lead them, which they said they were “delighted” about. Not all the voters of Vauxhall felt the same: many of them, worried about the living conditions there and the shooting at Stockwell, expressed their angry surprise that their MP had the time to take on so much extra work when she manages to attend only 55 percent of votes in the Commons.
But Hoeys record of rebellion extends beyond hunting. She is against foundation hospitals (although she was once in favour of hospitals trusts, which many traditional Labour people feared would be a first step in betrayal of the NHS), against student top-up fees, the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, compulsory ID cards, the war on Iraq… She protests that it the others who are out of step, that the measures she opposes were not in Labours manifesto  as if it would have made any difference if they had been. And why does she stay in a party which, she says, imposes policies it was not elected on? Even the Tories are confused about her. In October 1996 the mischievous MP Giles Brandreth recorded in his diary that he plotted about her with Sebastian Coe:
“Why donwe find someone to defect to us? We decided Kate Hoey was our prime target. We like her, she seems sensible, she isnvalued by New Labour.”

And more recently a Tory MP in the Daily Telegraph showed that little has changed with her: She spends more time in our division lobby than on the other side.
Quite what the fatigued electorate of Vauxhall think of the fact that they have elected a Labour MP who votes like a Tory will be apparent at the next election. Meanwhile they may take some kind of hint from Hoeys assessment of Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell and her husband David Mills with their labyrinthine mortgages and offshore financial manoeuvres. Perhaps she is jealous of a more durable female rival but Hoey refused to acquiesce in the orchestrated campaign from Number Ten designed to discredit the exposure of Jowell as motivated by gender prejudice. She was one of those who wanted Jowell sacked from leading Labours campaign in the local elections, for; she “…grew up in a Labour Party that thought that talking money out of the country wasn’t a very loyal thing to do. In fact the vast majority of the people of Vauxhall are not rich enough to practice that kind of disloyalty; as Hoey put it: Most people have enough trouble just getting one mortgage.
Before she joined the Labour Party Hoey was a member of an obscure Trotskyist organisation, which she later explained by confessing that I didnt have much contact with ordinary people. So I didnt understand their concerns (Brian Deer interview, Sunday Times Magazine 8 August 1993). After that embarrassing spasm she sat as a councillor in Hackney and Southwark waiting, with other hopeful future Labour stars, for the offer of a winnable seat. Hoeys chance came when the sitting MP for Vauxhall, Stuart Holland, resigned from the Commons to take an academic job. Holland, who was a disciple of Tony Benn , was described by a fellow member of the Lambeth Labour Party as “…pitifully eager to acquiesce in whatever absurdities Lambeth Labour cared to expound”. Hollands departure came as a relief to Neil Kinnock, tempered by the fact that the constituency party intended to replace him with Martha Osamor who, with her similar ideas, seemed to be no less of an embarrassment to the Labour leadership. So Hoey was imposed on a resistant local party as a moderniser  a word with a meaning we are all aware of now. She won the by-election with a majority of over 15000.
Sports Minister
Realising her ambition to be the first woman Sports Minister (she had a qualification in Physical Education, she had been Ulster high jump champion and Educational Adviser to a number of football clubs including Arsenal and Chelsea) brought Hooey up against the spin doctors of Downing Street. Against instructions from Alastair Campell she criticised the decision of Alex Ferguson (a special favourite of Blairs) to withdraw Manchester United from the 1999 FA Cup, saying that the clubs supporters had been treated in a quite shabby way. She officially complained about the MBE awarded to Arsenal striker Ian Wright, because his behaviour on the field  shouting and swearing at other players and the referee  made him a poor role example. She lasted only a couple of years in the job.
And now, on the back benches there seems little more by way of a political career left for her. There is still her writing for the Daily Telegraph, there is chairing the Countryside Alliance and doing her abrasive best to upset her party as she goes into the opposing voting lobby. And of course there may be her memoirs, which should have the words Tally Hoey in the title. If she hangs on to Vauxhall there will be the job of ministering to the people there who, in their poverty, bad housing, crime and pollution, can be expected to be feeling distinctly unministered to. Like most rebels, Hooey will need to work at living up to her own image. Recently in the Daily Telegraph, she was described as wearing a Gucci watch and a jacket trimmed with fake fur. She did not miss this chance to boost her reputation for reckless confession: The fur she respondedwas real. The Gucci watch was fake, provoking a spokesman for the Trading Standards Institute to remind her of the realities of commodity society: We deplore any public figure who seems to be celebrating the purchase of counterfeit items he sniffed (which probably gained Hoey a few more votes in Vauxhall).
It was Oscar Wilde who once described Hoeys favourite pastime as the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable. We may wonder what enduring, scathing epigram he would have fashioned about a Labour Minister indulging in such sport after her party had made all those promises about building a sustainably better society. Like all other rebels Hoey relies on the deception that she offers something so fresh and different that it has not been thought of before. In Wildes absence let us sum up the futility of it all: the unmemorable in pursuit of the unpracticable.

SPGB News Release - Corbyn (2015)


Members of The Socialist Party of Great Britain have warned the public not to be taken in by claims that Labour Party leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn offers any alternative to austerity in Britain.

Campaigning in North London this week, Bill Martin, who stood for the Socialist Party against Corbyn in his Islington constituency earlier this year, said Corbyn was right to lay the blame for the slump on the economic system, but claimed he was “just a traditional Labour MP, who puts forward the case for state intervention in a capitalist economy: Harold Wilson 2.1.”

“The cause of austerity is not the Tory government, or the absence of a Labour one. It’s the profit system which causes boom and bust,” said Bill Martin. “Governments can only spend at the expense of profits.  Corbyn should know better.  It was his Labour Party in the 1970s that tried to spend it’s a way out of a slump and it didn’t work then.”

Joining him was Adam Buick, an editor of Socialist Standard magazine who commented: “There is a lesson in the failure of the left-wing Syriza government to end austerity in Greece.  While capitalism is in a slump it can’t be ended. It was an impossible demand.”

He said Corbyn and his supporters should “stop wasting time trying to reform the market system and instead join our campaign to replace the capitalist system of class ownership and production for profit by a socialist system of common ownership, democratic control and production directly to meet people’s needs. Only then will austerity be ended forever.”

Letter: Blacklisted (2015)

Letter to the Editors from the August 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
Dear Editors
I am glad you found our book Blacklisted had value (Book Reviews, July Socialist Standard). With the announcement last month of the Pitchford inquiry’s terms of reference on undercover police officers, the point about calling for an inquiry is apposite.
One point I would raise (and Dave Smith may have a different view) is that we primarily set out to explain in detail the operation and effect of the construction blacklist. Part of that required putting that particular scandal in context – because it doesn’t arrive from nowhere – but this isn’t a comprehensive socioeconomic analysis and doesn’t pretend otherwise.
There is about half as much again that we left because it didn’t drive our key narrative. For instance there is more on how the unions operated that we felt, ultimately, sent us off course. This is a book to be read and distributed and campaigned with and used to inform and, yes, entertain.
So, I think to some extent your comment about not calling for the abolition of wage slavery is a criticism of something we never pretended we would do. And I don’t think every piece of work need have that call within it for it to be considered successful.
We are quite clear in the book that blacklisting is not an aberration but part of the mechanism of control deployed by corporations. We are explicit that the state is not neutral.
We are also clear that there are reservations about the reformist approaches adopted by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee and some unions in this matter. The debates on this are part of the story of blacklisting.
People may use the information in the book to support or undermine whichever political approach they like – but they can’t deny the scale, organisation and impact of blacklisting and that was our key objective.
I do hope we get more reviews which challenge us as yours has because it is only through debate that we can learn.
Phil Chamberlain, Associate Head of Dept for Broadcast and Journalism (acting), Bristol School of Film and Journalism